Meconium

  • Meconium is the dark, tarry contents of the fetal gastrointestinal tract, and is composed of fluids, swallowed cells and debris. Meconium passage at labor and delivery is common, occurring in up to 20% of deliveries; this is not a sign of fetal distress unless accompanied by other signs.
  • Meconium release prior to labor is considered a sign of fetal distress. When meconium is freshly released, it is clumpy and floats in the amniotic fluid. Within hours, it distributes throughout the sac and is known as “pea-soup” meconium. Macrophages in the fetal skin, mucus membranes and the amniotic sac phagocytize particulate matter, giving a green cast to the tissues.
  • After several days, the fluid is greenish-brown but clear, and the fetus and membranes are stained. After several weeks, the fetal skin and fluid will clear, but the amniotic membranes, fetal mucus membranes and nailbeds remain stained.

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